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National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition: Addressing the Cybersecurity Professional Gap

A team from the University of Central Florida (UCF) recently showed off their cybersecurity skills when they took home first prize in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC), hosted by the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) last month. This is the second year in a row that UCF has won.

During the NCCDC, college students from 10 universitiesattempted to keep a business running while weathering constant cyberattacks. The point is to evaluate whether the competitors can keep an online business system up and running against hackers. They are expected to detect and respond to outside threats, keep existing operations such as mail servers running, and balance the needs of the business against the needs of security.

Ten regional competitions were held all over the country, and the winners of these regional competitions advanced to the nationals. The University of California at Berkeley placed second and the Rochester Institute of Technology placed third in the national competition.

In 2005, a group of educators at UTSA founded the first NCCDC. These teachers and administrators wanted to find a way to promote interest in cybersecurity among college students. They thought that a competition might motivate more universities to teach about cybersecurity. The Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at UTSA hosted the Southwestern Regional Competition of the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in April 2005.

The main sponsor of the event is Raytheon, the fourth-largest defense contractor in the US by revenue, earning approximately $25 billion a year. It manufactures many different communications and intelligence systems, which can be vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Over the past several years, US businesses have discovered their vulnerability to cyberattacks, which continue to grow in number and sophistication. In 2014, hackers referring to themselves as the Guardians of Peace infiltrated Sony Pictures servers and released private information about employees as well as emails and other information. Theywere attempting to stop the release of the Sony film, The Interview, which revolved around a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Many cybersecurity experts feel North Korea was behind the attacks, although it has denied any involvement.

In response, as Homeland Security Today previously reported, House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said, "Nation-state actors are increasingly hacking into US companies and government networks to steal intellectual property and secrets without consequence."

"If North Korea has these capabilities, imagine what damage nation states like Russia, China, and Iran can cause our nation’s vital networks that control our power grid, energy, and water supplies or other critical infrastructure. We must do more to ensure our nation is able to prevent, detect and respond to the growing cyber threat," McCaul added.

In addition, a group known as the Syrian Electronic Army has attacked different US news organizations, including the Associated Press and The Washington Post. In 2013, the group briefly shut down The New York Times website.

On February 13, the White House held a cybersecurity summit at Stanford University to address cyberattacks stemming from foreign nations. Many different individuals and organizations attended the summit, from Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, to law enforcement officials and students.

“It’s one of the great paradoxes of our time that the very technologies that empower us to do great good an also be used to undermine us and inflict great harm,” President Obama said at the summit. “The same information technologies that help make our military the most advanced in the world are targeted by hackers from China and Russia who go after our defense contractors and systems that are built for our troops.”

A study released by Raytheon, 2015 Global Megatrends in Cybersecurity, suggested cybersecurity and cybersecurity experts will become more important. The survey identified trends Raytheon expects to happen in the future: Cybersecurity becoming a comparative advantage by business; employees will receive more training in online security; and cybersecurity readiness will increase, among others.

However, the study suggested there are not enough cybersecurity specialists currently active, with 66 percent of the IT professionals who responded stating that their companies need more such experts.

As we enter a world where cyberattacks become common, the sponsors and hosts of the NCCDC want to focus on getting a new generation of American citizens ready to fight them.

“The talented men and women who demonstrated their impressive skills at the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition give us great confidence in the ability of the next generation of cyber defenders to guard our critical cyber infrastructure,” Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services, said in a statement. “Because of Raytheon’s efforts and those of the other sponsors, we are helping to develop the cyber security workforce of the future.”

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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